It Takes a Village

Part of the reason why we moved back home is so our daughter could have more time with her relatives. But one thing we didn’t anticipate is how much we would need our friends and family to help us with our bundle of joy. From something as big as my mother letting us move back to the farm so that I could stay home and raise our family, our family coming together and hand delivering hay for our horses, to small acts of kindness and love from other members that we receive every day, our “village” is one to be admired.

My husband is gone half the year working hard to provide for our family. While he is at work it is usually just me and the baby left to hold down the fort. Recently in Missouri it has been bitterly cold, so of course the outside chores double! Feeding animals, blanketing horses, chopping and picking ice is all part of the deal when you have a farm in the winter time. However, this is the first winter I’ve had to do it alone with a toddler on my hip. Needless to say it has been a challenge. Wrestling us both into snow suits is half the struggle, and the other half is racing to get the chores done before the little one gets too cold. I considered waiting to do chores until crib time but since she doesn’t nap well and she doesn’t go to bed until well after dark, it meant I would be flailing around in pitch black to get it all done. So, usually she just comes with me.

It’s very hard for me to ask for help from people, but when one chore morning ended up with a bump on the head and very sad and very chilly toddler I realized I didn’t have a choice but to reach out. I had yet to get what I needed finished and my daughter was quite obviously done for the day.

My neighbor down the road ended up coming out to save the us. And not only did she help with the chores, but she came back the next day with ideas and equipment to make our life easier as we did farm checks. She didn’t like the idea of my daughter being exposed to below freezing temps on her watch!

When people say, “It takes a village. ” it’s not an exaggeration. Having a child has made me realize the importance of our close friends and family. Receiving kindness and generosity from our loved ones has been the greatest gift and the truest honor, and we as a family will be working hard to pass it forward.

Until next time…

The Ag Wife

A Composted Valentine

For those of you that received flowers this year for Valentine’s Day, what were your plans for them after they lived out their lives in a vase? Most dead flowers end up in the garbage along with many other organic waste items from our kitchen such as fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, etc. But did you know that they don’t properly decompose in the landfill? It takes much longer for organic waste to decompose in a landfill, and as it does it gives off gasses that contribute to global warming due do an improper decay cycle.

So what is to be done with all this waste? Why composting it of course! Composting can be done in almost any home environment big or small. And if you garden or raise plants, the advantages the compost gives to soil are exponential! There are so many ways to compost that you can customize it to your own lifestyle.

After some of research, I started my own composting journey last fall. I chose to use a tumbler composter. I keep a compost bucket on my back porch for kitchen scraps, and then take those scraps out to the composter once the bucket is full which ends up being once a day or so. Once I dump the scraps in the bin all I have to do is close it up and turn it to aerate the mixture. I like this tumbler because I can turn it with one hand and hold my daughter in the other. But if you do decide to compost make sure to research all your options, and yes there are even options for people that don’t have a backyard.

Yes, you can also compost your Halloween pumpkins! Hindsight from composting ours is that I should have chopped them into smaller pieces as it made the tumbler kind of hard to turn. It also took quite awhile for them to decompose.

With my composting journey being under way for about 6 months, I have learned a few things by trial and error. First, if you are a beginner and want to try the same system I am doing, I would recommend buying a bag of composting bacteria. It’s really helpful in maintaining proper decomposition and pH. Also, don’t put onions, garlic, or citrus fruits on your compost. Some people do it successfully with those items but I try not to tempt fate. You also never want to compost any sort of meat or cheese. Those items introduce harmful bacteria that will make you sick if you end up using the compost for gardening. The only other thing that you have to watch out of your moisture balance. It needs to be moist but not soaking. It’s pretty easy to achieve with a little water or some extra browns. Browns are dry things like yard leaves, clippings, cardboard, shavings. With this system, I hope to have some good quality compost for my garden this year!

Do you compost or have you ever thought about trying to? What composting method do you or would you like to attempt? I’d love to hear about your composting journeys!

Until next time…

The Ag Wife

Our First Family RV Trip

Right around Christmas last year we went on our very first RV road trip in our new(used) ride! Our destination was my stepfather’s cattle farm down in southern Missouri.

We had our share of first time RV owner adventures including an electrical mishap, pipe fitting issues, and even a bump on the noggin that had us racing to the ER with our daughter! Everything and everyone turned out just fine and healthy in the end. Should it even be considered an RV trip without a fair share of craziness? Between all the catastrophes we did end up having some extra time to enjoy ourselves. Our daughter even saw her first snow flurries of the season on this trip!

My daughter taking a snooze in her captain’s chair.
We made a gingerbread house!
First cooked meal in the RV.
We checked cattle with grandad and got super sleepy! Farming is hard work!
Daddy made a fire!
And made us some s’mores. They were delicious!

Overall we had a great time and we are so excited to get back out on the road for our next adventure!

Until next time…

The Ag Wife

Chick Days!

Starting around this time of year, many backyard farmers start making their plans for spring. This backyard farmer is starting her own flock of chickens! I ordered 9 Rhode Island Red pullets, 5 White Plymouth Rock pullets, and 1 Black Australorp cockerel for a total of 15 chicks.

We’ve have great history with egg production in Rhode Island Red hens so I knew for sure I wanted the majority of my flock to be that breed. But since I decided to order from a hatchery this year I browsed and found a couple other breeds I was interested in trying out. White Plymouth Rocks are medium to large bodied and are generally chosen for laying, but they also make good meat birds. I am fairly familiar with Barred Rock hens and I think the White Rocks are a relation, so I ordered a few just to see how they would compare to my much loved Reds.

Now what about the Black Australorp? I am not usually a fan of having a rooster around because I think that sometimes they stress the hens. However, I also had considered a couple factors in building this flock… A rooster should help in protecting the hens a bit. The last time there were chickens in this property some of them were picked off by coyotes. So hopefully at the very least the guy could be a sentry. The other factor being, that if I did in fact decide to brood my own chicks, this breed is also supposedly known for its egg laying abilities. Maybe I would even get better producing birds if I cross bred. If I do decide to try brooding a clutch or two I am sure there will be a post involving experiments with possible hybrid vigor and different phenotypic and genotypic outcomes. But, that won’t be for awhile.

While I have been explaining this exciting and somewhat nerdy news to my friends and family, I’ve been getting a lot of general questions about chickens and how their physiological processes work. So I thought I would answer some of these questions while I was on the subject!

Chickens are monogastric animals. This means they have one acidic stomach. They require higher quality feed sources as apposed to ruminant or cervid animals such as cattle or rabbits. Common ingredients in a bag of chicken feed will be corn for energy, soybeans for protein, and vitamin and minerals additives. Calcium is an especially important additive for laying hens as that is the main component of egg shells. Many times ingredients like dicalcium phosphate or limestone will be added to laying hen formula for this reason. Another interesting tidbit about the digestive system of a chicken is that they have no teeth. Instead they have a tough muscle in their throat called a gizzard. They swallow and store small pebbles in this muscle to aid in grinding the food they swallow into particulates.

A modern day, laying hen can lay upwards of 300 eggs in a year. They will lay an egg every day in what is called a sequence until they have a clutch. If the eggs are removed from the nest as they lay, they will continue to do so for an indeterminate amount of time. Sometimes they will have a pause day in laying in between sequences. This does not mean they are going to lessen or cease in egg production. It is merely a part of their natural ovulation cycle.

Egg laying is determinate on day/night or light/dark cycles and many things within a hens females reproductive process can be predicted and even controlled with this in mind. Many times as the days begin to grow shorter in the fall, molt is triggered. This is a period of feather loss and regrowth. It can also cause laying for some hens to stop as their body preserves nutrients to grow new feathers. Some molts last 3-4 weeks and others can last a couple months. Breed selection and nutrition are big contributing factors to how long a molt lasts.

Some other questions I’ve been asked…

  • What determines egg shell color?
    • From my knowledge, egg shell color is determined by the breed of chicken.
  • What determines egg size?
    • Egg size is in large part due to the age of the hen. The older a hen gets the large her eggs tend to get.
  • What determines egg yolk color?
    • Egg yolk color depends on what the chicken eats. Usually backyard farm and free range hens will have a dark yellow yolk due to having access to a variety of forage and insects. Some farms add things Marigold to feed rations in order achieve a golden colored yolk. There is not a nutritional difference in eating a light colored egg yolk verses a dark colored egg yolk.
  • Do you need a rooster for the hens to lay eggs?
    • No. Hens will ovulate and lay eggs in the same way they would with or without a rooster.
  • Do you need a rooster to have chicks?
    • Yes. You need a rooster to have chicks in the same way a woman needs the presence of a man in order to have a baby.

So, what other questions do you readers have about chickens? I would love to hear what you have to say about your own flocks!

Until next time…

The Ag Wife

Memaw Edwards

We have all met or known somebody in our lifetime that we’ve considered to be “one of the greats”. I am lucky enough to be related to one. My great grandmother Louise Edwards whom we lovingly called Memaw.

Born in Arkansas to the Lovell family, Memaw grew to be a woman short in stature with a big personality, and with an even bigger heart. She was a wife to her husband Charles, as well as teacher and a mother to her 4 children and countless students. She was our family’s steadfast matriarch for many fulfilling years.

When she passed away I was in the middle of a busy semester at college. My now husband and I dropped everything to be present for her service and burial. She had left a few precious things behind that I had the privilege to inherit. One of these things was the front of a quilt that she had made before she lost her eyesight. I had the intention of finishing it and had started to do so, but the amount of space it takes to properly work on a quilt was not conducive to my small college living space at the time. So the quilt finishing fell by the wayside.

Some years and a proposal later, I found myself back in Arkansas busy with wedding preparations. My family had surprised me with a bridal shower, and there it was… the finished quilt… wrapped up with a bow. My grandmother brought it home with her and spearheaded the undertaking of having my entire family put in the finishing stitches, including great grandfather Charles Edwards. This was and still is one of my most coveted belongings.

The grand reveal of Memaw’s Last Flower Garden

One of the other things I cherish and remember most about Memaw is that she was always in the kitchen. From morning, noon, to night if you were in her home, she was your personal cook to order chef. She made sure everyone that set foot in her home was fed and happy. I think I inherited from her, my innate obsession to make sure everyone that comes to my home is full and comfortable.

When Memaw passed away, I asked my grandmother for some of her written recipes. She returned to me on one of her visits to Missouri with a big photocopied book of recipes all written in Memaw’s handwriting. The ones she made that were especially liked have the words, “Real Good” scribbled at the top for special emphasis. Sometimes I flip through the pages and read them as though she is talking me through how to make her delicious southern style food.

Part of why I am writing in this blog is to share my cooking experiences and recipes, and a lot of what I know of cooking came directly or was passed down from this wonderful woman. The first of her recipes I have shared with you has actually never been written down. It was passed down by experience from Grandma Lovell, to Memaw, to my grandmother, to my mother, and then to me. The first family recipe I have shared with you is Memaw’s Sausage Gravy. You can access it by clicking on the recipe button below.

It was not an easy task writing this recipe down, as most of the measurements and cooking techniques are by eye and by feel. Even with guidance it took me awhile to get it the way Memaw would make it. So if you do attempt it, be patient with yourself, and make sure you try again if it doesn’t turn out the first time. A side note for this recipe… You can make it with bacon grease just the same as you would with sausage grease.

Please feel free to comment on your experience if you do try this recipe. I would love to hear about the successes and troubleshoot any failures with you all. I have many more family recipes to share with all of you, so stay tuned!

Lousie(Memaw) and Charles(Pepaw) Edwards

Until next time…

The Ag Wife

Let’s Talk Ag!

I am sure many of you are wondering, “Who is this woman? What qualifies her as ‘The Ag Wife’? And why hasn’t she posted anything about agriculture yet?”. So, I decided this morning that I would do my best to answer those questions!

I grew up with a love of animals that could not be curbed. Luckily my parents did anything but curb my passion. Yes, I was one of those little girls that had a pony…. Well, he was actually a Paso Fino named Cer. Anyway, my fascination with animals was further solidified when I learned what a Veterinarian was. I could not believe there was a job where you could take care of animals. That was my dream, and remained so through grade school and into college.

Me and Cer

I started grade school in Texas and then moved to Missouri when I was 11 or so. As I grew I started to learn that farmers, were also able to spend their time taking care of animals. My stepfather was the first person I met that had me realizing this. He is a veterinarian and also raises horses and cattle on his own farm in Southern Missouri. I learned a lot about the ins-and-outs of being a veterinarian and also about being a farmer while I observed and assisted him on both the farm and in the clinic.

As I started high school I discovered my school had Ag classes! And while taking these classes I met a phenomenal teacher that introduced me to an organization called The Future Farmers of America. I was immediately hooked, and my obsession with farming and agriculture officially began.

I started college at The University of Missouri as a pre-vet student and from there the doors of agricultural knowledge where opened wide. I dove in head first and came out the other side with a Bachelors Degree in Animal Science and with the intent to put my farming and animal husbandry knowledge to work.

College Graduation Day

Instead of paying for four more years of veterinary school, I decided it was time to begin a career in agriculture. It was difficult to land on a decision as to which field I would go into. My passion for animal agriculture was spread over all disciplines. To magnify the dilemma, during college I worked at a dressage facility for a short time as well as accepted an internship at an oil company that specialized in providing farmers with accessibility to energy. Eventually though, I found a career in raising pork. It was very hard work but also some of the most rewarding that I had ever experienced. I worked my way up to where I was managing the farrowing house at a 3500 head farm. My favorite thing to do was to assist in the farrowing process for my sows. This means I was there for when the piglets were born.

I was with my sows all the way through my pregnancy as well as after my daughter was born. However, as I continued to work, I felt myself spending less time with my family then I wanted. I then made the difficult decision to leave my beloved farm and change careers in order to achieve this new goal. Just as I was in the middle of this change, Our state shut down due to COVID.

Now, along with a new career and my daughter starting at daycare, I had to deal with the stress and anxieties that came along with being a parent in a pandemic. We worked at making this new lifestyle functional for us, but with my daughter struggling to adjust to her new care routine, and us as a family trying to adjust to pandemic living, we finally made the decision for my husband to take a different job and move back to our home town.

We are now living on my mother’s small 6 acre farm and are beginning to thrive as a family. With that being said my passion for agriculture has not diminished in the slightest. We have renovated the pasture and now have my horse, Bullet, and my daughters new pony, Clarabelle, living with us. This spring, we have plans to start a flock of chickens as well as a small garden. I can’t wait to share the specifics to all of you!

Bullet
Clarabelle

So as you can see, my life revolves around agriculture. And while I am spending time at home with my family, I am thoroughly excited to delve into the backyard farming life, as well as continue to groom my agricultural knowledge through this blog!

Until next time…

The Ag Wife

The Beginning

My life’s greatest adventure started when I met my now husband. Our story is that of two high school sweethearts who fell in love and grew up together as a couple. The journey has not always been easy, but with the support from each other, and our wonderful family, we have been able to thrive.

With the birth of our daughter in 2019 came the greatest challenge that we have faced yet. We were and still are constantly struggling with the internal thoughts of, “Are we doing it right?”. We are always cross referencing, research, family and professional guidance, and gut instincts ensure we are doing the best that we can to give her a proper start in life.

With this being said, over the past year my thoughts have been wandering as I am blindly bumbling through this strange experience called motherhood… Surely this is how all parents feel. Surely my husband and I struggle with the same debacle as any other family raising small children. Then my head says plainly, “Why not share our experience?”. If we are indeed “normal” parents, surely others would be interested in our story. And so the initial idea for this blog came to fruition.

So here we are at the start of it all. As I continue to post and add content I hope to expand from the topics being a crazy anxiety ridden mother, to expressing my passions in life that include cooking food, and learning about where such food comes from. But in all honesty, the true star of the show here is of course, my beautiful family.

Until next time…

The Ag Wife

An Open Letter

To my readers,
As I start this journey with you, I don't have a specific end-goal in mind. I am not sure how far this new project will take me. I do know that I am ready to share my passions and personal life lessons to any willing reader. With your patience, I believe I'll create an open and entertaining commentary. Please join me in a day in the life of a rural mother and her precious family.
Until next time...
The Ag Wife